Album Review: Conor Oberst, ‘Ruminations’

Written by on October 28, 2016

Scribed by: Erik Svensson
Album: Ruminations
Label: Nonesuch
Release Date: October 14th

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Conor Oberst’s songwriting has never been so personal.

He’s always been good at writing songs that feel true to listeners, but on Ruminations he writes about more personal subjects rather than stories of characters.

Wildly contrasting his 2014 album, Upside Down Mountain, Ruminations is an entirely solo record, recorded in the course of two days in Omaha, Nebraska, in the winter, with Oberst playing guitar, harmonica and piano all by himself. He has always managed to write devastatingly sad songs for people who need them, but there is something different at the heart of Ruminations.
The songs found on the album are incredibly lonely – more so than ever before for Oberst. There is something in the air surrounding his voice that almost makes the cold tangible. There is some element to the album that almost feels like it could only be perfectly appreciated if one were to shut themselves off from the world for a few days before listening.

Some of the songs tread familiar waters for fans of Oberst’s work, ruminating on alcohol as a salve (many of the songs, including “Next of Kin” and “Barbary Coast”), smoking too much (“The Rain Follows the Plow”), and feeling lonely. (basically all of them)
Oberst also moves into new territory, pulling back a few layers on the troubles that have befallen him lately. “Tachycardia” is named after a condition he has, on “Counting Sheep” a line goes, “”Life is a gas / What can you do? / Catheter piss / Fed through a tube / Cyst in the brain / Blood on the bamboo,” referencing more of his recent health problems.

The up-close and personal look listeners get at Oberst through Ruminations is a new angle. He paints a large tapestry with a relatively small range of emotions to paint with. The many shades of depression, melancholy, and abandonment that color Ruminations, make it beautiful in its own way, worth taking the time to observe.

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